Many years ago, well around 1996 or so, some very good friends had a dinner party. More of a cookout kind of thing involving a charcoal grill. The male component of these friends is a creative, brilliant man, my favorite nearly-unknown poet in the world. He has a love of complexity, and can get lost in its nooks and crannies for, well, let's say a lifetime. Add to this a certain dreamy scatterbrainedness (which I myself share), and what you end up with is a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen.
His meals tend to be improbably ambitious in scope and uniquely intriguing in concept, but their execution occurs in its own specialized segment of space and time, a hilariously disorganized and utterly chaotic lab staffed by dog run's worth of surrealist chefs.
But on the night in question, we were all blown away by something he made that he called Bali Burgers. Our boy has an ongoing fascination/love with Indonesian culture, see...and a deep relationship with the New York Times. So when the NYT published an Indonesian travelogue along with some recipes, he was all over it.
Like a lot of Asian food, Indonesian recipes can be very time-consuming if you're making everything from scratch. I have no idea how much prep time had been invested before we showed up, definitely hours, maybe days. And, to add to the degree of difficulty, he would be grilling fish, which requires an attentive eye. I don't precisely remember what went wrong during the grilling process...it was about 11pm by this point, but what I thought I remembered was that he took the fish fillets that had completely flaked apart and disintegrated on the grill, and formed balls/patties out of them. And served them with some sort of sambal thingie on top. And they were one of the best things I'd eaten up to that point in my life.
This meal was filed away under "vaguely recollectable good times" and had gradually become a bit legendary because the fish was truly superlative. So I recently set off on a grand quest for the NYT article. Which ended approximately 8 seconds later when Google Desktop found it in my email archives from 1998. Handy, that.
Having tracked down the source article, our situation becomes a bit more like an episode of CSI: Atlanta, but without Marg Hellenberger's Botoxed lips cracking wise...trying to piece together exactly what may have occurred at the grill station. There are several fish recipes in the article, and the Bali Burger recipe itself doesn't involve a grill. D'oh. It looks like what he actually made was lilit satay.
+++ TSS' NYT "bali burgers" seafood marinade.
10 large red Thai chilies, seeded and chopped 6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped 15 shallots, peeled and chopped 1 4-inch piece fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped, or 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric 1 medium tomato, skinned and seeded 1 4-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped 1 tablespoon coriander seeds 10 candlenuts 1 teaspoon dried shrimp paste 1/4 cup vegetable oil 2 stalks lemongrass, peeled and bruised 1 teaspoon palm sugar 2 tablespoons tamarind paste 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1. In a food processor, combine the chilies, garlic, shallots, turmeric, tomato, ginger, coriander, candlenuts and shrimp paste. Process until the ingredients are well ground but not pureed.
2. In a medium-size saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the chili mixture, lemongrass and palm sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Remove the lemongrass stalks and stir in the tamarind paste and salt. Use as a marinade for seafood and as a condiment. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
Yield: 2 1/4 cups.
1 10-ounce sea bass fillet or other firm-fleshed white fish, skin removed 12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined 3/4 cup desiccated, unsweetened coconut flakes 1/2 cup sambal mentah (see recipe) 5 lime leaves, sliced very fine 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 2 teaspoons salt 5 small green-bird chilies, very finely chopped 2 tablespoons brown sugar 16 6-inch lengths lemongrass, or 16 bamboo skewers immersed in water for 30 minutes.
1. In a food processor, combine the fish and shrimp and process until finely minced. Transfer to a bowl, add the remaining ingredients, except the lemongrass, and mix well.
2. Prepare a charcoal grill or preheat a broiler. Mound a heaping tablespoon of the seafood mixture over one end of the lemongrass, forming a somewhat flattened cylinder. Or for the skewers, mound 1 tablespoon of the mixture around each one. Grill or broil, turning once, until the fish is lightly browned and just cooked through, about 6 minutes. Serve immediately.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
15 shallots, peeled, halved and very finely sliced 4 garlic cloves, halved and very finely sliced 15 small green-bird chilies, seeded and finely chopped 5 lemon or lime leaves, very finely sliced 4 stalks lemongrass, very finely sliced 1 teaspoon shrimp paste 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice 1/3 cup vegetable oil 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
Combine all the ingredients in a deep bowl and stir with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes. Use as a condiment and as an ingredient in seafood dishes. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
Since it's been a weekend of rehearsal, set-up, performance, break-down, set-up, performance, there was no time to cook. Take-out was the obvious solution, but we couldn't agree on what. So, we ended up with Thai appetizers from Top Thai, previously mentioned below, and something from Long Chie, a Chinese-Surinamese restaurant across the street. There's never anyone in there so I was a bit wary, but their Ma-Po Tofu (pictured above) is definitely at least OK...and their fried rice:
passed the rather strict technical requirements of our in-house specialist (mt).
Andy's birthday was last Sunday, and this year 's festive congress was held at Da Damiano, a very attractive Italian on the Jan Pieter Heijestraat opposite OT301. The guests came b(e)aring all sorts of gifts; the kitchen came bearing a lovely antipasti platter of thinly sliced salumi and a great vitello tonnato, and then I ordered the fregola con vongole:
Which was perfectly toothsome and clammy (here's an eGullet thread about Sardinian cooking that touches on fregola). Another good if not amazing Italian, very slow service but the wholly pleasant scenery and decent house wine makes you not mind so very darn much.
I am now offically old: I really truly like prunes more all the time. This morning I made "real" (as in not instant) oatmeal with maple syrup, pistachios, cinnamon, a little nutmeg, and yes, prunes. And the prunes were my favorite part. After Thursday's gig, I'll include pictures, charts, graphs, etc. to follow, documenting every aspect of my ancientness.
LYSN: 12 July, 21:30, OT301
A concert of psychedelic drone music influenced by Angelo Badalamenti, Cluster, Gil Evans, Electric Wizard, Matmos, George Russell, Public Image Limited, Slug, Spacemen 3, Velvet Underground. LYSN is a band with a continuously changing line up started by Hilary Jeffery. The musicians play a wide range of acoustic, hybrid and electronic instruments, improvising and interpreting graphical scores to create powerful new music.
Two words: chilequiles rojo. Torn down and reconstructed, expat-style.
Make some perfect "basic black beans" (lots of cumin and garlic, also bay leaves, oregano, epazote, a couple of toasted and seeded whole guajillo chiles, tiny pinches of allspice, cinnamon, and clove. Cook for an hour or more until beans are almost done, then add chopped canned tomatoes, remove guajillos, puree them, and add back into beans, cook for 30 more minutes or until done, salt to taste).
Make a thin mole rojo (I did mine with pecan as the nut, ancho as the chile, and a shot of maple syrup instead of plantain as the sweetener). Recipe to follow.
Lightly crunch up a bag of tortilla chips (meaning don't pulverize it) and soak the pieces in the mole for 10 minutes or so.
Line a baking dish with the mole-soaked chips. Grate a thin layer of medium-young goat cheese over this.
Then spread a thick layer of the black beans on top of the rest.
Chop a sweet onion fine and add a layer of this.
Add a thin layer of mole if you've got some left.
Then grate some more goat cheese on top, or use another mild white cheese like haloumi.
Bake for 20 minutes, broiling the top if'n you want.
While it's baking, throw together a pico di gallo, let it sit for 15 minutes or so, strain, and toss/sprinkle this over the top when it comes out, and serve.
ETA: In my haste to congratulate myself last night, I may have oversimplified the "recipe" above. And I should re-emphasize that this is chilequiles in name and ingredients only: the presentation is 100% dense potluck casserole, I guess Cooking Light would call it Quik 'n Eazy Barely Cheezy Chilequiles Pie or something. But, if you're a careful layerer it can look pretty when cut. I myself am not such a careful layerer.
I made this for a dinner party last night whose guest of honor was a roasted kid (goat, that is). This was supposed to be a side dish or vegetarian main. It is almost as dense as it looks (pictured above is a cold and therefore denser-looking leftover piece), but it's still very healthy-feeling, there's almost no fat in it except for the cheese. And the tortilla chips.
Anyway, there are some fine tweaks that make a big difference: a little mint and a fresh clove of garlic in your pico de gallo, and straining the pico after it sits for a bit; a couple of guajillo chiles in your beans, etc. The biggest question we had over here was: how would the tortilla chips work texturally? I was hoping that they would disintegrate into the mole and end up something like a tamale crust and that's pretty much what happened.
Here's the mole recipe, designed to emulate the flavors of a real, day-long mole by using cheats on top of cheats. The sesame oil actually works, if you add it at the beginning. There are so many shortcuts in here that (colorful hyperbolic statement goes here). Note: watch your salt on this, because the the tortilla chips are salty themselves.
quick 'n lazy mole rojo.
3 ancho chiles, toasted for 1 minute per side in a sautepan 1 guajillo chile, toasted for 1 minute per side in a sautepan 1-2 cups vegetable broth, boiling hot 8 cloves garlic, pressed 3/4 cup pecans, toasted
1 tbsp dried oregano 1 tbsp ground cumin 1-2 tbsp roasted sesame oil or walnut oil if you don't believe me about the sesame oil
1 tsp cinnamon 1 tsp pimenton 1 tsp allspice 1 tbsp good Dutch cocoa powder 1 tbsp maple syrup or a bit more if you're like me salt to taste
OK! Pour the boiling vegetable broth over the chiles to cover and hope that your chiles don't generate bitter chile water. Let them sit for 15-20 minutes in the broth, then remove them (reserving the broth) and puree them with the garlic and pecans, adding broth to facilitate if necessary.
In a wok or similar, toast the oregano and cumin for 30-60 seconds until just fragrant. Add sesame oil, stir to incorporate toasted spices, then add garlic-chile puree and saute everything for a minute or so until the garlic gives you "that smell" (but not That Smell).
Stir the reserved broth into the chile puree mixture, then add the cinnamon and remaining ingredients. Salt to taste, and simmer for 30 minutes or so. The main goal here is to mellow the garlic and reduce the sauce slightly. You're going for a consistency that is barely thinner than a standard tomato sauce. This recipe should make a cup or two of faux-mole.
I've just about recovered from the dish pictured above, and the picture really only tells half the story. This was the first "controversial appetizer" served at the Voedsel, Kunst, and Wetenschap symposium at Utrecht's Centraal Museum Friday night. The thrust of the evening's programme was to examine the issues surrounding stem cell-derived cultivated meat, or kweekvlees, and to serve some artful and, yes, controversial preparations of "kweekvlees-inspired dishes". Since I couldn't stay for the whole symposium, I missed the explanation of what was actually in these dishes, from a flesh perspective. I approached them from the perspective that they were lab meat, which was much somehow more challenging than the truth.
The first one was actually controversial, in that I experienced a personal controversy over how much of it I could actually eat. It's a marrow bone, but something about the presentation of this dish led to a deceleration of my enthusiasm, perhaps it was the clear, em..."juice" oozing onto my hand as I held it. But I could've carried through I think if there'd been enough salt to enhance the fattiness of the gooey contents, but as it was...(I'm trying to be kind here)....sigh. Let's just call it controversial.
The second bite of the evening was completely and thankfully enjoyably edible: bloedworst with a sweet apple vinaigrette. Nice. And then...I had to leave to get back to OT301. Good thing I'd had a bite to eat beforehand with Ed and NICOLE (whose name will be typed in capital letters until I can be sure that I'll never ever forget it again) at Pronto Pronto: duck rilettes and a bruschetta sampler with seared tuna and tapenade, taleggio, and a few cured meat combos. Very tasty, and substantial enough to where I wasn't even sitting there all starving on my way back to Amsterdam. Ultimately, however, it proved to not be enough of a belly ballast for the evening's beer consumption...morning came early the next day.